Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the current human rights record in Uzbekistan “abysmal” and its government “totalitarian.”
Human Rights Watch released its latest World Report on January 21 in which it identifies a wide spectrum of human rights violations in Uzbekistan.
Steve Swerdlow, HRW Central Asia researcher, told Uznews.net that the severity of government repression in the country makes its human rights record more dismal than in other repressive countries.
The entrenched human rights violations in Uzbekistan include the highest number of political prisoners in post-Soviet space, a complete lack of freedom of speech, assembly, media, and movement, widespread torture, forced labor, religious persecution, and the Andijan massacre of 2005.
“It is this wide spectrum (of human rights abuses) that qualifies the Uzbek government as totalitarian, rather than simply dictatorial,” said Steve Swerdlow
Karimov’s corrupt political philosophy
The human rights abuses, according to the Human Rights Watch expert, stem from the corrupt political philosophy developed and maintained by the country’s president Islam Karimov where the entirety of public, political, religious, and even economic activity and initiative is perceived as a threat to his regime.
“Until political elites in the government or President Karimov himself either change or are forced to change this political philosophy, Uzbekistan’s human rights record is likely to remain abysmal,” states Swerdlow.
|Totalitarism (from the Latin totalis – entire, complete) is a political regime aiming to establish a complete government control over all the aspects of public and individual life."|
World Report states that Uzbekistan remains virtually closed to independent monitoring while freedom of expression is severely limited. The authorities continue to crack down on rights activists, harass or threaten activists living in exile, and persecute those who practice their religion outside strict state confines. Forced labor of adults and children continues.
Torture remains systematic in the criminal justice system. The International Committee of the Red Cross took an unusual step in April of 2013 and publicly announced its decision to end prison visits in Uzbekistan. It cited its inability to follow standard procedures for visits, including being able to access all detainees of concern and speaking to detainees confidentially and in private.
Human rights in exchange for transit
The HRW report underscores that despite the grave abuses, the United States and the European Union continued to advance closer relations with Uzbekistan, seeking cooperation in the war in Afghanistan.
The European Union’s position on human rights in the country remained weak, with no public expressions of concern about the government’s deteriorating record and no policy consequences for Tashkent’s failure to meet the EU’s reform expectations articulated by US foreign ministers in 2010. In November 2012, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton visited Tashkent but did not publicly voice concern with its worsening human rights situation.
While the Obama administration views Uzbekistan as a critical part of its Northern Distribution Network through which it has been transporting non-lethal supplies to Afghanistan since 2009.
Since 2004, the US Congress has restricted assistance to Tashkent based on its rights record and imposed further limits following the Andijan massacre. However, beginning in 2012 the Obama administration exercised authority that Congress had granted it to waive rights-related sanctions and restarted military aid to Tashkent.
Last year the State Department’s human trafficking report placed Uzbekistan in the lowest category – Tier 3 – based on Tashkent’s systematic use of forced labor, but the Obama administration waived the sanctions provided for under this status invoking national security grounds.
Political prisoners in Uzbekistan
The World Report names thirty-three individuals, journalists, human rights activists, opposition leaders, and practicing Muslims, who remain imprisoned on politically motivated charges.
The imprisoned journalists and human rights activists are Salijon Abdurakhmanov, Azam Formonov, Mekhriniso Xhamedova, Zulkhumor Khamidova, Isroiljon Kholdarov, Nosim Isakov, Gaibullo Jalilov, Turaboy Juraboev, Abdurasul Khudoinazarov, Ganikhon Mamatkhanov, Chuyan Mamatkulov, Zafarjon Rakhimov, Yuldashev Rasulov, Bobomurod Razzakov, Dilmurod Saidov, Nematjon Siddikov, and Akzam Turgunov.
The imprisoned opposition and religious activists and leaders are Mukhammad Bekjanov, Batyrbek Jeshkuziev, Rukhiddin Rakhruddinov, Khairullo Khamidov, Bakhrom Ibragimov, Murod Juraev, Davron Kabilov, Matlyuba Karimova, Samandar Kukanov, Gairat Mekhliboev, Jerkin Musaev, Yusuf Ruzimuradov, Rustam Usmanov, Ravshanbek Vafoev, and Akram Yuldashev.
Presentation of the World Report 2014 and press conference in Berlin with the Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth can be seen here: